Jeff Helminiak / Peninsula Clarion
                                A pair of tents sits at the Infinity Pools above the Tutka Backdoor Trail in Kachemak Bay State Park in July 2019.

Jeff Helminiak / Peninsula Clarion A pair of tents sits at the Infinity Pools above the Tutka Backdoor Trail in Kachemak Bay State Park in July 2019.

State officials urge Alaskans to get outside

During a virtual town hall, commissioners fielded questions from the public on state recreation.

The public heard from Alaska officials Thursday on what outdoor recreation opportunities will be available this summer.

During a virtual town hall hosted by the Office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy and moderated by the governor’s director of community relations, Dave Stieren, commissioners from the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Department of Fish and Game fielded questions from the public on the topic.

Some questions were submitted ahead of time. Other questions were drawn from the Facebook live feed during the event.

Corri Feige, Alaska’s DNR commissioner, encouraged Alaskans to enjoy Alaska’s state parks and recreation system, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Doug Vincent-Lang, commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game, also encouraged Alaskans to take advantage of the hunting and fishing opportunities in the state, while urging recreators to take health precautions.

“My message to you is to get outside,” Vincent-Lang said at the town hall. “We have lots of hunting and fishing opportunities across our state.

“I urge you to be careful as you go out. You know, the pandemic hasn’t gone away just because we’re relaxing things right now. Wear face coverings. Try to provision as much as you can from home with products that you know you have. Practice social distancing. But there’s no reason to not avail yourself of the hunting and fishing that can be done across our state.”

Questions during the town hall covered a variety of topics, including fishing regulations and campground availability.

Regarding halibut fishing regulations, a questioner wanted to know if the state will be relaxing the current limit for fishing charters of two halibut per day.

Vincent-Lang said that the state is working with federal and international partners to relax the current restrictions, but those changes will not include an increase in the daily halibut limit.

Feige was asked about access to the state campgrounds, and how to determine which ones are open and which ones aren’t. She recommended that people go to her department’s website, where a map is available of all state campgrounds, boat launches and recreation areas with seasonal opening and closure dates. Those websites are updated every few days, Feige said.

More than 90% of the state’s 157 parks and recreation areas are open, Feige said, and are operating as normal.

Hatcher Pass, Independence Mine and Archangel trail are still closed due to snow, Feige said. Lake Louise State Recreation Area currently has no concessions, although the parking lot is open.

The rest of the areas will be open by late July, Feige said.

Vincent-Lang was asked if Fish and Game officials would be asking out-of-state anglers screening questions and actively enforcing the 14-day quarantine as they are checking fishing licenses.

Vincent-Lang said that the state would be focusing on education, explaining the importance of social distancing and wearing face coverings, rather than looking for a reason to punish people.

A lodge owner in King Salmon was curious about the possibility of nonresident visitors getting tested for COVID-19 upon arrival into the state and receiving their results within 48 hours.

Stieren said that testing will be available at the major airports, but the turnaround time for those tests will be dependent on the volume of travelers being tested. The more people that need to get tested, Stieren said, the more delayed the results.

The state is encouraging nonresident travelers to get tested prior to traveling to Alaska, but many states still do not have widespread testing opportunities.

Feige was asked if the state campgrounds are operating at full capacity, and she said they are. Some campgrounds had to delay opening in order to extend the space between individual sites, but the ones that are open have full capacity.

“All facilities that show as open on the website are fully open,” Feige said. “That means bathrooms. That means bear bins for waste management. And we have concessionaires and seasonal staff that are ensuring that our bathroom facilities are wiped down and disinfected, per protocol, on a regular basis.”

For the more remote facilities and cabins, Feige recommended that campers bring plenty of hand sanitizer, maintain separation from other camping parties, and use disinfecting wipes to wipe down the common use areas before and after using them.

The state’s campgrounds are paying some of its campground hosts a stipend this year rather than relying on volunteers. Feige said there are currently openings for campground hosts as well as concessionaires. People can visit the website to learn how to apply to be a campground host.

Vincent-Lang was asked if the Upper Cook Inlet personal use fisheries will still be opening. He said that the current plan is to have all fisheries operate “as normal” this year.

Many residents were curious about the state’s plan when it comes to fighting wildland fires, considering that many large wildfires occurred last year in non-pandemic conditions.

Feige said that DNR has been planning for another fire season as severe as last year’s.

“Because of COVID-19 and the difficulties with travel, and the difficulties of having fire crews working in very close proximity, things like that, we needed to really plan for what we would do if we had another season like last year,” Feige said.

Currently a plan is in place that involves having instate firefighting crews regularly tested for COVID-19 and maintaining separate units to limit exposure between teams. If firefighters are needed from out of state, they will be tested upon arrival and quarantined until they can get their results. All of the hotshot and smokejumper crews with the Bureau of Land Management, Feige said, have been proactive in getting tested and isolating so that they can be ready to travel where needed.

One of the last questions addressed by Vincent-Lang had to do with bears in Anchorage. With increased bear sightings being reported in the city, the questioner was curious about the state’s urban bear policy.

Vincent-Lang said the state has a zero-tolerance policy for “problem bears,” and a person has every right to shoot one if it is threatening someone’s life, but beyond that the state will be leaving them alone.

“First off, we live in Alaska and bears are a fact of life,” Vincent-Lang said. “We should be fortunate that we have bears around. That said, public safety is our No. 1 concern.”

Vincent-Lang said that there are two biologists in the area, one based in Anchorage and one in Eagle River, who will respond if troopers or residents report a dangerous bear. Vincent-Lang recommended keeping an eye on children when they play outside.

The full Town Hall can be viewed on the governor’s Facebook page.

DNR’s website can be found at dnr.alaska.gov.

ADF&G’s website can be found at adfg.alaska.gov.

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